By Ryan Thorburn

The (Eugene) Register-Guard

NCAA Tournament

No. 15 Seattle at No. 2 Oregon

When: 4:30 p.m. Friday


The echoes of a proud past have been stirred by the recent rebirth of the Oregon women’s basketball program under coach Kelly Graves.

But no matter how big the games are at Matthew Knight Arena, which will host first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games this weekend, it will be impossible to re-create the cacophony inside McArthur Court during the glory days of old.

“I’m not sure you can replicate what Mac Court was then,” former Oregon coach Jody Runge said. “It was just the way Mac Court was designed and how close the fans were and just how loud it got. Coaches hated to play at Oregon. They knew they were going to have to put their ‘A’ game on because we had the best sixth man in the league at the time.

“There was just nowhere else to play that replicated that.”

The current staff and players have been able to reinvent what is possible for women’s basketball at Oregon, just as Runge did two decades ago.

Oregon made eight consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances under Runge from 1994 to 2001. Her 1999-2000 team, led by Pac-10 player of the year Shaquala Williams and a strong surrounding cast, won the conference title, a feat not duplicated by the Ducks until this season.

“Honestly, I don’t really remember the schedule or any of that,” Runge said when asked about her memories of that championship march. “I just remember the team was cohesive and really bonded together.

“We just kept putting one foot in front of the other and found a way to get it done.”

Oregon finished 23-8 overall and won the outright Pac-10 crown with a 14-4 conference record 18 years ago.

The ride came to a painful end on March 17, 2000, when the sixth-seeded Ducks lost 80-79 in overtime to No. 11 Alabama-Birmingham in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Runge, who had previously worked for UAB coach Jeannie Milling, knew it could be a difficult matchup. The Blazers’ star, Deanna Jackson, scored 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead the upset of Oregon in front of a stunned crowd of 7,672 at Mac Court.

“I don’t remember much of anything about the game, just how disappointed we were,” Runge said. “It was great to see (Milling) but certainly tough to have a loss. … We just didn’t have one of our best games and unfortunately we didn’t get the job done that night.”

Runge’s 1993-94 team, which finished 20-9 overall and third in the Pac-10, also hosted an NCAA Tournament game at Mac Court as a No. 6 seed.

The Ducks defeated Santa Clara 74-59 on March 16, 1994, but had to travel for the second round to Colorado, where they lost 92-71 to the Buffaloes.

Runge, who still owns the best overall winning percentage (.687) and conference winning percentage (.695) in program history, was 3-8 in NCAA Tournament games at Oregon. Nine of the NCAA matchups were played on the road or at neutral sites.

This time Oregon, the No. 2 seed in the Spokane Regional, will host No. 15 Seattle University on Friday with a chance to advance and play a second-round game against the No. 7 Green Bay-No. 10 Minnesota winner on Sunday at Matthew Knight Arena.

“Kelly and his staff have done a great job, they did a great job when they were at Gonzaga (2000-2014),” Runge said of the Ducks hosting an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. “I think the facilities and all of the things there are to sell at Oregon now are very marketable.

“The community itself has always been very supportive of women’s basketball, and once they started winning again, apparently they’re coming back to see them play again. That’s great to see.”

Runge’s successful tenure ended in controversy when she resigned under pressure in 2001 after players and administrators complained about her blunt coaching style.

This season, during Oregon’s thrilling overtime wins over USC and UCLA in February, Runge and a few of her former players were having as much fun as the rest of the growing crowds at Matthew Knight Arena.

Graves and the program hosted an alumni weekend as the 2017-18 Ducks closed in on the Pac-12 championship.

“Kelly is a great guy and they did a great job in particular this last year being very inclusive with everyone who has been a part of Oregon in the past,” said Runge, who runs a bed-and-breakfast in Portland. “They did an amazing job of welcoming everyone back to be supportive. I really appreciate the opportunity that we all had to get together with them. It was just great to see everybody.”